Sweet Briar’s three-week session an opportunity to learn with President Woo

Posted on September 19, 2018 by Amy Ostroth

President Meredith Woo and students sitting around a table during her class, Global Politics
It is sometimes difficult for college presidents to find time to get into the classroom to teach, but that’s just what President Woo was able to do during Sweet Briar’s first three-week short session, which ended last week.

During the class, “Global Politics”, students studied the basic building blocks in world politics by examining events of the twentieth century. “We discussed current events covered by the New York Times, then dug deeply into the historical background that gave rise to them.” The class was focused on the impact of war, ideology, and economics on the formation of nations. Woo said that the students seemed to be most interested in issues like refugees in the Middle East and South Asia; wars in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan; and the rise of right wing parties in Europe.

More than just learning about world events, President Woo wanted her students to learn how to stay informed about what is happening even after the class was over. “One aim of the course was to encourage a lifetime habit of reading national papers of their choice,” said Woo.

Chanel Friedrich ’19, liked the discussions with her classmates and noted that those discussions changed her understanding of the world. “I was surprised at how much I understood at the end of the class,” Friedrich said. “Having an understanding of how wars, revolutions and depressions brought about the political structures countries have today allowed me to understand the politics of the past and the present.” And although the students sometimes had differing viewpoints, they were able to have engaging conversations and learn from each other. “When I walked out of class, I felt like I was getting the best education,” Friedrich said. “I felt like I had walked out of a graduate level class at Harvard, but it wasn’t in the slightest intimidating.”

Taylor Allen ’20, acknowledged that it can be a little intimidating to take a class with your college president. But she said it didn’t take long for the class to relax and have fun while they were learning. “I don’t think many other people can say they’ve ever had a class with the president of their college, which is a shame because this has been such an amazing experience and if I could take more classes with her I would,” Allen said.

President Woo would probably like that. When we asked her how it felt to teach again, she admitted: “I absolutely loved it. I would teach every semester if I could!”